In a presentation available to employees that was hosted on an internal company web portal, retail giant Best Buy positioned itself as starkly anti-union, saying that unions led to changes that made organizations "less than fully competitive and less able to respond to customer needs," according to multiple copies of the presentation obtained by Motherboard.
After being approached for comment by Motherboard, Best Buy removed the presentation from its internal messaging system, and said that the presentation does not represent the company's values.
The news comes at a time when tech, retail, and gig workers continue to take collective action to strike or in some cases unionize.
"During the last few years the media has been filled with reports of attempts by unions to modify our country's basic labor laws to make it easier for unions to be successful in organizing employees. As a result, a variety of questions have been asked about Best Buy and its views about unions," the presentation starts. It then says that although Best Buy recognizes unions may have been necessary in the early parts of the industrial revolution, it believes unions have implemented work rules that have made companies less competitive. The presentation points to unionization in the automotive industry in particular.
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The presentation frames its information as impartial, telling readers that "Our goal is to ensure that you make an educated and informed decision. It is your decision, but when any of us are exposed to a new topic or situation, we all make better decisions when we are educated on the subjects." But the presentation disproportionately focuses on perceived negative aspects of unions, saying that joining one can lead to employees being harassed, that bargaining for wages can take much longer, and that, inaccurately, having a union authorization card "is like giving a signed, blank check to a stranger."
The presentation also claims that unions may run community events in order to gather personal information to use in recruiting drives, that union leaders may act with their own interests rather than those of workers, and that individual workers may not get credit for their own good ideas of how to improve the business.
When asked for comment on both presentations, Best Buy spokesperson Carly Charlson pointed to the company's Human Rights corporate statement.
"As is clearly outlined in this statement, we support a number of internationally recognized human rights principles, including the freedom of association and collective bargaining," she wrote. "If the above isn’t clear enough, of course we support employees' right to unionize."
Charlson added that the material was created more than 10 years ago for employees at the time who had questions about unions.
"We acknowledge that although the video was designed to be informative, it does not fully align with our company values and those in our Human Rights corporate statement. It has been removed," she added.
Although some Best Buy employees Motherboard spoke to didn't know what a union was or didn't see the need for one, multiple other workers did feel forming a union would be beneficial to them and their colleagues.
"1,000 percent we should unionize. Part time employees filled up most of the staff in the stores. Where are we now?! Furloughed and replaced by salary managers. I haven’t met a single person at my store that is happy with how they are being treated," one current Best Buy employee told Motherboard. Motherboard granted multiple current and former Best Buy employees anonymity to speak more candidly about internal company practices and protect them from retaliation.
"I definitely think Best Buy should have a union. Some of the things that go on with the company is ridiculous and needs to stop. But without us having a union to protect us as we voice our concerns and getting backlash, we will get snubbed out like a camp fire every single time," a second employee said.
"I believe unions are a great thing for us because Best Buy has a habit of taking advantage of us as employees, I could say that they go as far as to pit us against each other. I feel that if we unionize it would give us a sense of looking out for one another instead of forcing us to work against each other," a third employee said. A fourth current employee also said they think Best Buy employees should unionize.
Some of the employees described what they see as an anti-union culture, too.
"Best Buy will never have a union. It is known if you have worked for the company for a while not to speak or bring up the thought of unions," the second current employee said.
"Best Buy as a company would try their possible best to crush any unions or any idea of it," the third employee added.
Motherboard also obtained a copy of Best Buy's arbitration policy, which means employees cannot sue Best Buy for wrongdoing in court, and instead have to settle any disagreements in a closed-off dialogue with Best Buy itself. These agreements are not uncommon but have faced renewed scrutiny recently; in 2018, Google changed its policy to not hold sexual harassment or assault claims in arbitration after an uproar from employees. Google then expanded this to all employee disputes.
Best Buy's arbitration policy lists some of the laws that employees are required to only discuss any issues with privately with the company, including The Equal Pay Act, The Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act, and The Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
When shown the Best Buy presentation, Hugh Baran, staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, told Motherboard in a phone call that the arbitration policy as written applies not only to Best Buy employees, but also those simply applying for jobs.
"Best Buy and other non-union employers impose forced arbitration requirements and class/collective action waivers largely as they see fit; employees have no say. If Best Buy employees were to unionize, Best Buy couldn’t do that—they would be terms and conditions of employment subject to negotiation as part of a collective bargaining agreement," Baran added in an email.
The presentation is embedded below.